How People in the Past Imagined the Future? Part 1 – Transportation

Aerial cars will ply between great centers of population, arriving and departing on fixed schedules and carrying their human cargoes” (Henry Litchfield, 1901)

It is always fascinating to look, how our ancestors imagined the times we now live in. From flying cars to the cities on the moon, it is always interesting to explore the past visions of the future, and compare them to the reality. Many envisioned technologies never made it the history books, however, there were some predictions which now seem almost frighteningly correct.

In following article, we are going to explore all the major aspects of the incredible world of retro-futurism, regarding the field of transportation. Did these predictions about the transportation in future come true? And will they ever do? Well, let’s find out.


Only a very few writers of the past have made so accurate predictions about the future as the French visionary author Jules Verne(1828 – 1905), unofficial founder of the sci-fi genre. His creative mind managed to come up with many ideas never thought of or envisioned before; many of which exist today as actual inventions. In the realm of future transportation, Jules Verne has made many incredibly accurate predictions.


19.th century illustration of the Nautilus(20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, first edition)

In the novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea(1870), Jules Verne described the Nautilus, a giant metal submarine running on sodium-mercury battery power. According to Verne, Nautilus was the shape of an elongated cylinder with conical ends. The length of this cylinder was exactly 70 meters (230 feet), and its maximum breadth was 8 meters(26 feet). Its top speed was around 50 knots(57.5 mph), floor area 1011.45 square meters(11,000 square feet), and it had a displacement of 1,507 freight tons.


1957 depiction of the Nautilus

The Nautilus used floodable tanks for adjusting its buoyancy and controlling its depth this way. Its crew gathered all food from the sea, and used a distillation machinery to make drinking water from seawater.

In his long-forgotten novel Paris in the 20.th century, Jules Verne depicted not only the widespread use of cars, but also various infrastructures built for them. He predicted that Paris in year 1960 would be full of cars powered by compressed air, while many refuelling stations would be built around the city.


The Albatross from “Robur the Conqueror”

In the novel Robur the Conqueror, Jules Verne predicted the rise of heavier-than-air flying machines, more than 40 years before the first airplane. He depicted the Albatross, a giant flying ship equipped with 37 vertical propellers, powered by electricity from accumulators. Albatross was more than 100 feet long, and it was entirely made from hardened paper.

At the end of 19.th century, people started to be more and more interested in the possible faces of the 20.th century. On May 9, 1897 The Paul Globe published an article titled, “Strange Ships Sailing In The Skies“, depicting proposed flying airships and vessels by wide variety of French artists and engineers. Some of the more interesting designs can be seen below:

Hydrogen airship design proposed by J.S.Cowdon

“Winged” airborne vessel

Professor’s Wellner airship(without any propeller)

2.1900 – 1940

During the first half of the 20.th century, many interesting predictions about the world 2000 were made by variety of visionaries and artists. Types of the future transportation included flying cars, electric trains, electric airships, and much more. One of the most famous was French artist Maximilian Villemard(1865 – 1931), who in year 1910 produced a series of postcards showcasing his vision of the life in the year 2000.

Avenue of the Opera, Paris, in year 2000. Sky is full of various airships and airplanes. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Literal airships, used for long-distance travel. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Aeroplanes used for rescuing people from sinking ships. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Luxurious train from Paris to Beijing, powered by electricity. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Drive-thru bar for airplanes. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Flying policemen, controlling traffic jams in the air at the Place de la Concorde, Paris. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

Battle fought by ”military cars”, equipped with miniguns. Maximilian Villemard(1910)

City of Leominster in the future, as envisioned by an unknown artist. Note the suspension railway above the city, and large amount of airships and hot-air baloons.(1910)

In year 1936, Japanese design magazine Club Shonen published an article entitled ”Transportation Invention Competition — an illustrated series of the envisioned transportation of the future, based on variety of concepts by inventors from all around the world. From high-speed mountain monorails to high-speed tank-like battle boats, the images showcased a incredible blend of technological innovation and artistic imagination.

This car of the future with spherical wheels is based on an idea from American visionary Jack Dyson. The vehicle’s tires are a pair of large spheres made from volcanized rubber, offering a significantly smoother ride than the majority of conventional tires on a four-wheeled vehicle. Reiji Iizuka (1936)

This super-fast aircraft is propelled by two large propellers, blasting hot air through a pair of large thrusts.Matsujiro Murakami, (1936)

Passenger ship designed to be opened in an emergency situation, containing a fleet of smaller boats, allowing all people to escape quickly and safely. Gyosui Suzuki(1936)

More coming soon…


2 thoughts on “How People in the Past Imagined the Future? Part 1 – Transportation”

  1. Really love the Retrofuturism stuff always have, more would be great!
    Also nice site overall

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